Austin Vitelli

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

SI gives Sixers 'A' grade for offseason moves

After three straight years in or near the cellar of the NBA standings, the Sixers may be gearing to start moving up.

And people are taking notice.

The Sports Illustrated staff graded each NBA team's offseason moves and gave the Sixers a grade of A for their moves. And it was well-deserved.

Sixers fans haven't had much to celebrate in the past few years, but seeing the team draft Ben Simmons and watching his stunning passing ability in summer league was enough to get many fans excited about the upcoming season. The article noted the Simmons pick as the Sixers' best move, saying taking him over Brandon Ingram, who went No. 2 overall to the Lakers, showed they're ready to take the next step.

Jeremy Woo, one of the contributors to the article, went on to describe their other important moves this offseason:

With Joel Embiid presumably ready to return, Dario Saric coming over from Turkey and Simmons here to anchor the franchise, the future in Philadelphia is bright for the first time in years. Brett Brown can mix and match and the front office can decide which prospects to build around. Some of these guys are inevitably going to get traded, and some of them likely won’t pan out. But at least Philly is moving forward, finally.

Yes, finally.

The Sixers should have three first-round level talents making their NBA debuts this season with Simmons, Saric and Embiid, all of whom represent a separate and long wait. With Simmons, it took three years for the Sixers to finally get the first pick in the draft. With Embiid, it was waiting two full seasons for him to return from a foot injury. And with Saric, it was the agonizing wait for him to come over from Turkey after the back-and-forth reports over what he was ultimately going to decide.

The article makes note of the change in power from Sam Hinkie to the Colangelos, one that could've runied "The Process," but instead helped it continue to flourish. It also said the Sixers' worst move was that they didn't make any big gambles in free agency, whether by choice or because of lack of interest from the actual players. But this criticism is much nicer than what some of the other teams in their division received.

The Knicks received a D grade after signing injury-prone Joakim Noah and trading for Derrick Rose, both of whom have large salary cap hits for their recent production. The Nets received a C- for trying to go after too many restricted free agents and ending up with Jeremy Lin as their top acquisition, who is a good player, but isn't going to turn this subpar team around. And the Raptors got a C for essentially doing nothing other than re-signing DeMar Derozan and letting Bismack Biyombo walk in free agency.

But while the Sixers may have had a better offseason than any team in the division, this by no means suggests they'll move up in the standings too much in the immediate future. They still have to see how the new young talent meshes together and develops. But continued development has a chance to show why this offseason was such a success.

Tonight's Lineup: Cesar Hernandez back in as leadoff man, Tommy Joseph in vs. righty

Tonight's Lineup: Cesar Hernandez back in as leadoff man, Tommy Joseph in vs. righty

The Phillies lost the first of a three-game series with the Cardinals last night when Jeanmar Gomez blew a save for the first time in over a month. Randal Grichuk hit a walk-off double in the 11th inning to give St. Louis the win.

In response, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has switched up the lineup for Saturday's game. After Cesar Hernandez returned from a one-game absence to pinch hit Friday night, he returns to the lineup as the leadoff hitter. Hernandez has been batting .317 this month with 19 hits and three RBIs.

Odubel Herrera moves down to the second spot, and Tommy Joseph replaces Ryan Howard in the lineup. Howard is having his best month of the season by far, recording a hit in eight of 10 games in August. Conversely, Joseph is having one of his worst months, batting just .226 so far in August.

Other changes include Cameron Rupp catching instead of  Carlos Ruiz and Emmanuel Burris at second subbing out with Hernandez back in. Jeremy Hellickson returns to the mound after not making a start since Aug. 10 (see game notes) Here's the full lineup for the Phils:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Odubel Herrera, CF
3. Tommy Joseph, 1B
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Cameron Rupp, C
6. Aaron Altherr, LF
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Peter Bourjos, RF
9. Jeremy Hellickson, P

Here's the Cardinals' lineup:

1. Jeremy Hazelbaker, LF
2. Stephen Piscotty, RF
3. Matt Carpenter, 2B
4. Brandon Moss, 1B
5. Yadier Molina, C
6. Jhonny Peralta, 3B
7. Jedd Gyorko, SS
8. Randal Grichuk, CF
9. Luke Weaver, P

Under Doug Pederson, much should change for Eagles — except special teams

Under Doug Pederson, much should change for Eagles — except special teams

The offense will huddle.

The defense is back to a 4-3.

The Eagles' special teams ... should remain the same.

Oftentimes when a new head coach comes in, he’ll bring in an entirely new coaching staff, replacing most, if not all, of the coordinators. But Doug Pederson chose to keep Dave Fipp around, and for good reason. 

“[Pederson] still lets Fipp do what Fipp’s done for the last three or four years,” special teams stalwart Trey Burton said Monday. “I don’t think anything has changed.”

Two players that haven't changed are returner Darren Sproles and punter Donnie Jones. Sproles has made the Pro Bowl as a return specialist the last two seasons. Jones in the last three years has become the franchise's record-holder in both net and gross punting average. 

In 2014, the Eagles’ special teams ranked No. 1 in the league, according to columnist Rick Gosselin, who annually ranks special teams for The Dallas Morning News.

That year, Sproles, kicker Cody Parkey and long-snapper Jon Dorenbos all made the Pro Bowl for special teams.

Last year, the Eagles finished second in punt return average (11.4) and sixth in net punting average (41.6). 

But special teams is more than just kickers and return men. The guys behind the scenes — guys like Burton, Chris Maragos, Bryan Braman and Najee Goode — are what help make this unit so great.

Last year the Eagles recorded three special teams TDs and finished fifth in Gosselin's rankings.

“We were one of the top special teams in the league last year, so our main goal is to try to stay in the top five,” cornerback Denzel Rice said. “Our focus level is the same for the most part.”

Rice is on the cusp of cracking the Eagles' roster, so with seemingly more depth at the cornerback position, standing out on special teams may be his ticket to a roster spot.

“Special teams is special for a reason,” Rice said. “We have to hone in on our technique and our focus so that we can excel during the season.”

Burton has carved out a role on special teams after signing as an undrafted free agent in 2014. He logged 420 special teams snaps last year, second most on the team behind Braman, and led the team in special teams tackles with 19.

“It’s extremely important,” Burton said. “In my scenario, I was the fourth tight end, so there was no chance of me playing on offense. You just have to understand your role and a lot of times it’s on special teams, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

It didn't take long to see special teams to make an impact this preseason. On the opening kickoff last Thursday against the Buccaneers, Goode punched the ball out, and Maragos recovered it inside the 20-yard line.

“I think it’s been really cool to see how [Pederson] values special teams,” Maragos said. “The importance of field position, he understands what our special teams unit can do from an explosive standpoint and helping our team win ballgames. He’s all on board, he gives us the time we need to go out there and practice.”